Scotland politics

Labour leadership: Smith claims Corbyn 'happy' about Brexit vote

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Media captionMr Smith repeatedly asked Mr Corbyn whether he had voted to Remain

Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith has claimed Jeremy Corbyn was "happy" about the UK voting to leave the EU.

Speaking during a sometimes ill-tempered hustings debate in Glasgow, he also warned that the party could split unless Mr Corbyn was replaced.

Mr Corbyn again insisted he voted to Remain in June's EU referendum.

And he warned against splitting the party, saying it was important that Labour remained "democratic and accountable".

The event at the SECC was the latest in a series of debates being held by the two politicians during the Labour leadership contest.

Mr Smith is attempting to unseat Mr Corbyn less than a year after he was overwhelmingly elected as leader.

The leadership contest was triggered after dozens of Mr Corbyn's frontbench team - including then-Work and Pensions spokesman Mr Smith - quit in the wake of Hilary Benn's sacking on 26 June.

Image copyright Reuters

But despite having little support among Labour MPs - who accuse him of having a lacklustre EU referendum campaign - Mr Corbyn's backers believe he remains popular among grassroots party members.

Mr Smith told an audience of Labour members that he was "gutted" by the vote to leave the EU, and was prepared to fight Brexit up to opposing a vote to trigger Article 50 in parliament.

Repeatedly questioning whether Mr Corbyn voted to Remain, he added: "The reason I think that Jeremy can be so complacent and passive about this is that he's happy about the result. He's not bothered about the result.

"If he's so concerned about protecting workers' rights why on earth would we allow the Tories to implement a Brexit deal which is going to see workers' rights in this country sold down the river?

"He didn't fight hard last time round. I will."

Mr Corbyn said the referendum had taken place and delivered a result which was not the one he wanted, but had to be respected.

He said he would fight to protect workers' rights and consumer rights and to ensure "there is an effective economic relationship with Europe when the Brexit negotiations are completed".

He added: "We don't want to become a low-wage tax haven bargain basement economy offshore of Europe."

Speaking earlier in the debate, Mr Smith insisted he would be "Labour till I die" and would not play any part in a split.

But he said his "grave fear" was that the party could end up divided unless a new leader is elected.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Corbyn has insisted he would still be able to work with Kezia Dugdale despite her backing Mr Smith

Mr Smith claimed Labour had gone backwards in Scotland under Mr Corbyn, with the party finishing third behind the SNP and Conservatives in May's Holyrood election.

He said: "People in Scotland cannot look to Labour in Westminster right now and anticipate us winning a general election, therefore we are ill-serving the Scottish Labour Party and we are ill-serving the people of Scotland.

"We need to get back to being a radical and credible government-in-waiting, and we need to be much more powerful in attacking the Tories."

'Utter anathema'

Mr Corbyn pledged greater investment in Scotland if the party was to win the next general election, and said Labour needed to challenge the SNP more on their "underfunding" of Scottish local authorities.

He said the SNP were "very good" at pretending to "adopt the clothes" of the Labour tradition in Scotland.

Mr Corbyn added: "The reality is something very, very different, of what they do in their economic strategy. And that surely is something that has to be challenged in the Scottish Parliament."

The Labour leader also said Scottish government statistics released on Wednesday showed independence would not be in the best interests of Scotland.

The Gers figures revealed a Scottish deficit of £14.8bn in 2015/16 when a geographic share of North Sea revenues was allocated.

Asked about any potential Labour Party split, Mr Corbyn said: "It's an enormous honour to be selected and elected as a Labour Member of Parliament.

"You have a huge responsibility to the community that has elected you and the party that has selected you and put you there so the idea, as happened with the SDP in the 1980s, that you could walk away into the arms of wealthy donors and set up some other organisation is complete and utter anathema to me.

"I want our party to be democratic and accountable."

Both candidates also emphatically rejected any suggestion of forming a "progressive alliance" with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens.

Labour Party members have already started voting in the leadership contest, with the outcome due to be announced on 24 September.

Scottish Labour Party leader Kezia Dugdale, who is supporting Mr Smith's candidacy, did not attend the debate, which was shown live on the BBC News Channel.

There was jeering from some sections of the debate audience when Ms Dugdale's name was mentioned, and laughter when Mr Smith said she was doing a "great job".

But Mr Corbyn again insisted he would be able to work with Ms Dugdale if he won the leadership contest.

Mr Corbyn had earlier secured a seat in a Virgin rail carriage for his trip to Glasgow as he returned to the operator following a row about overcrowded trains.

Virgin had disputed his claim he was unable to find a seat on a "ram-packed" service earlier this month.

On Thursday morning, Mr Corbyn was photographed in a seat on a Virgin service from London Euston to Glasgow.

Twitter user David Rose posted an image of the Labour leader and said: "My kids just got on @VirginTrains from Euston to Glasgow with @jeremycorbyn. He has a seat. Good job @richardbranson."

Virgin Trains responded by wishing Mr Corbyn a "great trip". In a Twitter message the operator said: "Welcome onboard! Hope you all have a great trip to Glasgow this morning."


Labour leadership election timetable

  • 19-20 July: The number of MP nominations for each candidate was published
  • 20 July: Deadline for people to sign up as a registered supporter closed
  • 22 August: Ballot papers start to be sent out in the post and by email
  • 21 September: Deadline for ballot papers to be returned is midday
  • 24 September: The result will be announced at a special conference in Liverpool

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